Any Airline could be carbon-neutral

Monday 10 October 2011, by Hernandez Andres, Herrmann Moritz, Perret Will, Vandebroek Tom

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a) The main facts about the activities of the company.

NatureAir is an airline that is proud to announce that it is 100% carbon neutral. In the future, it aspires to be carbon positive and wants to act as an example to other companies. Nature Air supports local initiatives and organizations to develop and conduct Sustainable Tourism Events and Meetings.

In 1991, the company started as Travel Air, but in 2000 was taken over by an Eco-friendly tourism group and was rebranded as NatureAir. By 2004, it was the first carbon neutral Airline in the world .

This does not mean, however, that they do not emit a carbon footprint. They do obviously; however, they invest money from profits that they make into cleaning up the amount of carbon that they emit. They do this by investing in organisations that help with the forestation of the rainforest. By doing this, they plant enough trees to take in the carbon that they emit.

Apart from ethics, in business terms, the company is very good. They have had the highest On Time Performance of all airlines in Costa Rica for the last 6 years. This is a remarkable achievement when we consider they put so much of their profit into investing into the ecological areas of their business plan. It shows to us that within their business, the group of individuals work very well as a team and everyone is on a similar wavelength.

b) The ethical challenges this company is addressing

In our view, NatureAir is addressing two concrete environmental as well as social concerns:

? NatureAir strives to minimise its CO2 emissions , by means of using a detailed greenhouse gas life cycle assessment and through third-party audit. Also, it fuels its planes 100% by bio-diesel.
? In addition to its endeavour to limit its direct ecological footprint, NatureAir also manages to ?completely offset? its effect on nature by means of carbon offset conservation projects; in concreto, through preservation and reforestation of tropical forests in the Osa Peninsula.

? NatureAir also facilitates social inclusion: It set up a foundation that helps members of the local community learn English, so that they can participate in the sustainable tourism industry in particular and in professional and social life, more generally.
? Related to this, English skills enhance locals? expected wage. Thus NatureAir helps to alleviate poverty within the local community.

Additionally, NatureAir acknowledges the concern that particularly ecology, in fact, would still be better off if the company were not there. NatureAir does seem to set a good example, however, of how adverse impact of human action could be minimised, without jeopardising our ?quality of life? (e.g. including air travel).

c) What makes us believe this company is really ethical and why we trust it.

NatureAir claims to be a 100% carbon neutral airline. The most important question for us was whether a company can at all be ethical if it engages in actions, which pollute the environment as heavily as the aviation industry. Nevertheless, flying is part of modern life and benefits a great number of people all over the world. In our view, flying is a part of today?s life and cannot be thought away. As long as there are no reasonable alternatives, aviation companies can only try to keep their impact on the environment as small as possible. Nature Air goes into that direction and we therefore think it acts ethically.

The decision of Nature Air to voluntarily run its business carbon neutral was very ethical in our opinion. As it was the first company to go along this path, they did not just follow a business trend but showed that they acted thoughtfully and faithfully.

Of course, a big doubt which comes to one?s mind when reading about a carbon neutral airline concerns the credibility of this promise. Nature Air calculates the CO2- emissions by taking all burned fuel over the year and therewith calculates the emissions during the year. Additionally, the calculation is overviewed by third party auditors.

d) The possible challenges facing the company in the future and how we think this company may improve.

According to several opinions and claims about the social and ecological effects that biofuels can cause , the challenges will be illustrated as the ethical challenges: focusing on the environment and on society.

First of all, we would like to mention that when it comes to the company?s good position we started wondering what could happen if the competitors took the same idea, following NatureAir?s example. An interview we found provided us with a convincing answer that seemed naturally expressed by NatureAir?s Chief marketing officer, Alexi Huntley Khajavi. It demonstrates NatureAir?s consciousness of their position. They know that the country and its nature are beautiful and valuable and that ecotourism is well-positioned in Costa Rica. They care about it and they challenge others to be carbon-neutral as well, that is to follow their example. Of course, the given answer can be admired and is debatable:

Question: Do you think any airline can be carbon-neutral, or is this just something that you can do because of your market?
Answer (by Huntley Khajavi): ? ?Of course any airline could be carbon-neutral, all it takes is the initiative. However, I won?t lie that we have an advantage in the fact that we fly in Costa Rica ? a place known for being the birth of sustainable and eco-tourism.?

Having that said, let us start with the environmental/ecological and the social effects:

Environmental effect: People may wonder if the company really cares. Is the compensation of NatureAir?s emitted greenhouse gases through investments, in the preservation and reforestation of tropical forest in the Osa Peninsula, enough? We believe in this offset thinking, we hope and expect them to continue with that kind of managing but we consider this question as a challenge for NatureAir.

Fueling planes 100% with biodiesel can be questioned, not for the emissions but because of biodiesel?s origin. Biofuels have both supporters and opponents; the opponents are in this case the specific challengers for the company. Years ago, in 2004, the situation in Brazil with food shortages and soaring prices caused by the ethanol boom is an example of why people may question if with time we have to choose between food and fuel. Why to allocate food to biofuel production? Probably this challenge is not so obvious right now, but it seems to be an important long-term issue to handle if the company?s main goals towards a better care of nature are to be followed.

Social effect: NatureAir has grown from flying 18,000 passengers in its first year back in 2000 to more than 150,000 in 2007 , establishing itself as one of Central America?s fastest growing regional carriers. What about mass tourism? Again, NatureAir?s Chief marketing officer covers the question and highlights the advantage of their business commitment regarding the impact on society and on nature :

?These passengers are naturally concerned with their impact on the destinations and feel a deeper connection with NatureAir knowing their flight is helping to protecting the very places they are in Costa Rica to see?.

The numbers in the introduction of this part show something different!
Among NatureAir?s social guidelines some initiatives are to involve local communities in planning and decision making, to be sensitive to the host culture, and to assess social impacts of tourism activities. But to which extent do the people get informed about this consequences provoked by an enormous growth of mass tourism in this small country? The big challenge for the company can be not to lose control of the efficient business and to live up to the policy the company has.

Our contribution is to recommend NatureAir to extend the positive environmental and social effects of their policy through expanding the business to the neighboring countries in Central America. They have already a leader position in Central America so the best way could be to open subsidiaries instead of flying only from Costa Rica. At least they could fly from another country. The Costa Ricans may appreciate the purpose behind this, if the protection of their own country becomes outstanding. A strong argument to make such an expansion fair and trustworthy (because of the job opportunities the Costa Ricans might lose) is through an encouragement of the skills received by the English language, giving other job opportunities within the company and Costa Rica?s general and potential tourism.

As the company wants to act as an example to other companies, they may demonstrate to competitors how being carbon-neutral/positive does not prevent one from being profitable. And it demonstrates local values to the rest of the world (e.g. respect for nature and people).


Location: Costa Rica

Sector: airline industry

Official website:

Key figures:

Countries of operations: All Costa Rica and some destinations in Panama and Nicaragua.

World?s First Certified Carbon Neutral Airline

Largest Private Charter Operator in Central America

Only All Twin Engine Fleet In Costa Rica (a Canadian build, renowned and reliable aircraft "De-Haviland Dash-6 Twin Otter")

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